From satellite imagery of the entire globe to hundreds of 3-D cities throughout, Google Earth is taking on the world — literally. The virtual map and geographical information site was released in 2005, and has since become the go-to site for exploring nearly perfect digital depictions of towns, terrains, and planets worldwide and beyond. A mountainous goal of Google’s is to have a 3-D version of every building in existence. That’s what attracted Randall Crane’s interest.
When the 2012 Google Model Your Town Competition was announced last November, Crane already had spent a year photographing, texturing, and creating buildings for the city of Evansville on the Google application SketchUp, a 3-D modeling software. The Chicago-based web designer just wanted to spruce up his hometown’s image. When he heard about the contest — which judges towns on the modelers ability to make photo-textured models of real-life buildings — Crane couldn’t resist. “I thought, ‘Why not? Why shouldn’t I enter Evansville?’” he says. “I knew that I had done good work, but I didn’t really know whether or not they would recognize it.” They did.
Announced in mid-March, Crane’s 182-building, 3-D depiction of Evansville earned him — and Evansville — a spot as a top six finalist, along with Lowell, Mass.; Getaria, Gipuzkoa, Spain; Leominster, Herefordshire, U.K.; Toruń, Kujawsko-Pomorskie, Poland; and Zielona Góra, Lubuskie, Poland. Ultimately, the Spanish town of Getaria received the gold, winning a $25,000 award for the town’s public school district, a visit and dinner with a Google team, a video profile, and a virtual tour of the town. That doesn’t make Evansville a loser. “I knew that if we got picked as a finalist it was going to put Evansville on a stage that it hasn’t seen before,” says Crane. “Now when you go to the YouTube video stats report there are details that show Evansville is embedded in foreign newspapers and foreign blogs.” Here, he shares his motivations and advice for building Evansville.
What inspired you to build Evansville?
When I first started, I went onto Google Earth and noticed that big cities like Chicago and New York City were built up. I thought, ‘Oh, I wonder what’s going on in Evansville?’ So I pulled it up, and it was absolutely flat. I wanted to build it up so people can visit the city on Google Earth and see it for what it is.
Did you already know how to use the Google software to create the models?
No. When I saw Evansville was flat, I looked into it. I downloaded the application (Google SketchUp) and I had no idea how to make it work. I started playing around with it and I couldn’t do anything. But, Google has put up YouTube instructional videos that show you how to make circles, windows, textures, and everything you need to get started. It took me about six to 12 months to really get a handle on the program. At that stage, I actually went back to some of my earlier ones and cleaned them up. Today, I’m really proud of the skill level that I’ve developed, and I feel like I could tackle any building. The two hardest ones to build were the arena (Ford Center) and the Old Courthouse.
What did you do to create detailed, accurate buildings?
As a web designer, my skill set with Photoshop and graphics really came in handy. If you want the buildings to look good you should take your own pictures; when you do that, there’s usually a tree, or a car, or a power line in the way. In Photoshop, you can clean it up and remove it. That’s what took the most time, cleaning up the texture. When you first build a building in SketchUp it’s all white and you have to go in and paint the various sides — you do that with your textures.
Why is this contest so important to Google and its goal of getting every building on the planet built?
They’re relying on people like me who want to get their hometown on the maps to help them out. Frankly, who knows your hometown better than you do? I wouldn’t expect Google to send someone here to take photos, or to know the city like I do.
To find out more about Google’s Model Your Town Competition, visit http://sketchup.google.com/competitions/modelyourtown.